New Tory Government: 10 key points for green business
The results are in: it's five more years of David Cameron, with the Conservative Party enjoying an unexpected surge towards a full majority. But what does this all mean for green business and the environment?
Political moments as equally siginificant and surprising as this one are rare. Personal triumphs for Cameron and the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon could reshape the future of the UK. The Tories are expected to take 331 seats – enough to form a slender majority in the Commons.
Big stories for green businesses include the rise of the Green party – which touted the most ambitious green policies in its manifesto – and the demise of the Liberal Democrats – a party that claimed to have driven the green agenda throughout the last parliament.
There is also now understandable concern form the wind industry, which could be facing some pretty serious susbsidy cuts.
Here are the key storylines from the 2015 General Election:
1) We will have a new Energy Secretary (let’s hope it’s not a climate-sceptic)
Ed Davey lost his Kingston & Surbiton constituency to the Tories, on a night where the Lib Dems coughed up more than 40 seats. The Five Green Laws ‘nailed to the front of the manifesto’ did little to overcome any reputational losses suffered by the party during their time in Government.
Industry professionals and journalists lamented the loss of Davey on Twitter, although not all were sad to see him go.
Sad to see .@EdwardDaveyMP go. Had a hard act to follow in Huhne, but did well & was a positive force on climate, renewables & environment
— Adam Vaughan (@adamvaughan_uk) May 8, 2015
— Casey Cole (@carbonltd) May 8, 2015
— David Thorpe (@DavidKThorpe) May 8, 2015
— Martyn Williams (@MartynWilliams2) May 8, 2015
Bryony Worthington, the Shadow DECC Minister in the House of Lords and former Friends of the Earth campaigner, took to Twitter to urge green groups to help block any climate sceptics from becoming a “stooge head of Decc”.
She added: “Clearly it’s not great but the Tories on their own are less powerful than they were. They will have to be more tempered. We can limit the damage.
“It’s sad we could be facing distracting referenda on EU and Union when there are really much more important issues that we should be addressing.”
Climate Change Minister Amber Rudd held her seat in Hastings and Rye, and could be one of the early front-runners for Davey’s job.
2) The Green Party enjoyed a record night
The Greens – by far the most popular party among edie readers – won more than one million votes; more than four times their record in any previous election
Caroline Lucas increased her majority in Brighton Pavilion by 11% and promised to fight for a “fairer greener future”.
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) May 8, 2015
3) UKIP’s failure is good news for the environment
Nigel Farage has lost his bid for a seat in South Thanet to the Conservatives, and is expected to resign, while around the country UKIP are projected to have won just two seats.
This is undoubtedly good news for sustainability professionals, as the party will have little scope of following through on its manifesto pledges of scrapping the Climate Change Act and “rejuvenating the coal industry”. As such, UKIP ranked second-from-bottom in our poll on ‘which party has the best green policies?’, with less than 4% of the vote.
4) The renewables industry still has more questions than answers…
Wind-power market analyst Andreas Scassola certainly think so, based on the Conservative pledge to scrap onshore wind susbsidies, and their record of opposition over the last five years.
Tories’ victory @Election_UK could spell doom for onshore wind. Offshore wind, gas, shale gas and nuclear likely to further expand
— Andrea Scassola (@Andrea_Scassola) May 8, 2015
RenewableUK said the new Government should send an early signal that it’s serious about supporting low-carbon energy to attract investment and create jobs.
The organisation’s chief executive Maria McCaffery said: “We hope that one of the new Government’s priorities will be to act quickly to secure our home-grown energy supplies based on clean sources including wind, wave and tidal power.
“We urge the new administration to confirm the importance of onshore wind as an essential part of our electricity mix, as it is one of the most cost effective ways to generate electricity, and is consistently supported by two-thirds of the public. As long as we can continue on our current course, onshore wind will be the cheapest of all power sources by 2020, so it makes sense to support it.
“For the renewable energy sector as a whole, the most important signal that the Government could send to show that it’s serious about cleaning up the way we generate electricity would be to set a clear 2030 decarbonisation target to provide long term certainty. This would attract the investment needed for growth.”
The Renewable Energy Association’s (REA) chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska added: “With the 2020 targets on the horizon, we now call on David Cameron and the incoming Government to take the measures required to enable the renewable energy industry to play a key role in the UK’s energy mix, including acknowledging the important role of value for money technologies including solar and biomass for power, heat and transport and measures including energy storage which could benefit the energy system at no extra cost to consumers.”
Leonie Greene, the head of external affairs at the Solar Trade Association (STA), also took to Twitter to urge the next Government to issue a clear statement of support.
Hope Conservatives give confidence promptly to renewable power investors. UK CO2 target insufficient. What’s the driver post EU targets?
— Leonie Greene (@LeonieGreene) May 8, 2015
She added “For a Government of any colour, there is an urgent need to give vision & impetus to grid. It risks derailing modern, low-carbon infrastructure without direction.”
5) The EU referendum could complicate things
A cornerstone of the Conservative manifesto was a pledge to hold an in/out referendum on the EU.
However, this could spell trouble for energy security and clean-tech investment, according to representatives of all four main parties.
Ed Davey called the idea of an EU exit “a total disaster; a recipe for Britain’s voice on climate change to be completely ignored”.
There were also concerns that an exit would soften some of Britain’s decarbonisation plans, while Britain would not be a part of the forthcoming ‘country specific’ circular economy package expected from the bloc.
Terry Scuoler, chief executive of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “The biggest threat to our long-term economic well-being remains the prospect of leaving the EU. Mr Cameron will be under pressure to call a referendum as soon as possible, possibly bringing it to next year.
“The new administration must move quickly and campaign on the back of a strong and positive case for Britain’s continued membership. Any drift or dithering on this issue will mean uncertainty for British businesses, which would be very unhelpful for the long term prospects of the economy.”
6) The Tories “will push for a strong global climate deal”
The Conservative manifesto confirmed that the Conservatives would “push for a strong global climate deal [in Paris] later this year”.
“At home, we will continue to support the UK Climate Change Act. We will cut emissions as cost-effectively as possible.”
The sustainability professionals group IEMA urged the Prime Minister to stick to this promise.
IEMA chief policy advisor Martin Baxter said: “David Cameron’s commitment to ‘One Nation’ needs to be underpinned by a commitment to ‘One Planet’.
“Central to this will be climate leadership – domestically in meeting carbon budgets and internationally with support for an international agreement in Paris.”
7) Waste uncertainty remains
The Conservative manifesto gave no specific mention of waste policy, leaving industry professionals uncertain about their future
Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was re-elected in South West Norfolk, but some were questioning whetehr there would even be a Defra for her to return to?
From the director-general of the Provision Trade Federation:
Will Defra continue to be a tooth-cutting ministry? Will there still be a Defra? Got to find that 12bn from somewhere. So many questions.
— Terry Jones (@terry_PTF) May 8, 2015
Jacob Hayler from the Environmental Services Associattion (ESA) said: “The recycling industry has gone through a challenging time in the past 12 months but is well placed to provide jobs at all skills levels all around the country as we recycle more of our waste.
“A key environmental priority for the next Government should be to find a way for us to meet our 2020 household recycling targets without local authorities going bust. The industry is keen to help the Government solve this conundrum as well as other issues affecting our sector.”
8) We could be about to go ‘all out for fracking’…
The Tory manifesto continued the party’s support for the controversial drilling technique, pledging to create a Sovereign Wealth Fund for the North of England, “so that the shale gas resources of the North are used to invest in the future of the North”.
Previous legislation supporting fracking had been blocked by a both Lib Dem and Labour MPs,but with the Tories approaching an absolute majority, the party may be able to push legislation through on their own.
9) We’re set for a 25-year plan to restore natural capital
With significant new effort needed by the new government to ensure the delivery of much-needed national infrastructure, the Conservative Party did state in its manifesto that it would work with the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) to develop a 25-year plan to restore the UK’s biodiversity.
The Aldersgate Group, whose business members represent a wide range of economic sectors and a collective turnover in excess of £300bn, is now urging the Tories to really recognise the importance of the UK’s environmental and low carbon goods sector as part of the UK’s continued economic recovery.
The organisation’s exective director Nick Molho said: “We welcome in particular the Conservative Party’s commitments in its manifesto to improve the state of the UK’s natural environment, support the UK’s Climate Change Act and to continue reducing the UK’s emissions cost-effectively.”
10) We are entering the most significant period for green policy of all time…
As an addition to all of the aforementioned points, the new Tory Government and Decc minister will have to quickly focus their attention on the next carbon budget, tackle issues surrounding UK energy policies (both domestically and industrially), along with sorting out what’s happening with the new nuclear power plant, CCS funding and fracking.
And all of this will be underpinned by the UK’s stance going into those crucial climate negotiations in Paris at the end of the year. Let’s hope the Conservatives really can be the ‘greenest goverment ever’ this time around…
Brad Allen & Luke Nicholls
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